Tony Mandarich Goes From Lineman To Cameraman
Tony Mandarich has been called everything from “the incredible bulk” to “the incredible bust” and anything in between over the last 25 years, but there’s one thing you never thought you’d hear the controversial former NFL offensive lineman described as: Model photographer.
That’s what you’ll find the second overall pick of the 1989 NFL draft doing now in Scottsdale, AZ, as he now runs the Mandarich Models photography studio that specializes in fitness, glamour, and boudoir.
Go ahead, insert your own beauty and the beast joke if you must, but Mandarich says he usually gets a different response when he tells old friends and teammates about his new line of work.
“The biggest response I get is, ‘Let me know if you need an assistant,’ “ Mandarich joked.
He picked up photography as a hobby in the mid-1990s with a passion for nature shots. When he moved to Arizona from his native Canada in 2005, he launched Mandarich Models with his wife, Char.
He now also specializes in internet consulting such as search engine optimization and social network marketing. With budgets tight and modeling agencies now doing many photo shoots internally, Mandarich says he only does about four or five shoots a month.
“If we were fulltime photography, we’d probably starve to death doing that,” he said.
But Mandarich knows where his loyalties lie.
Said Mandarich: “I guess if there was a gun to my head and (someone) said you can only do one thing as a job, I would choose photography because that is the biggest passion.”
It certainly seems like an odd fit for a former NFL lineman to be picking out the hair styles and make-up for models he photographs, but Mandarich says his gut instinct usually leads him in the right direction despite his inexperience.
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“I just look at it and if it feels right, I go with it,” Mandarich said. “I say, ‘I think this will look good with this.’ I don’t even know the name of the color… My first impression is usually 99% right.”
It was hard to imagine this softer side of Mandarich when he was picked second overall in the ’89 draft and one spot ahead of Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders.
Prior to the draft, Mandarich was placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, dubbed “The Incredible Bulk” and hailed as the best offensive line prospect ever.
Fueled by steroids that he says he used from his last year in high school to the middle of his senior season at Michigan State, Mandarich was a 6-foot-5, 315-pound freak of nature offensive tackle that consumed up to 15,000 calories a day, bench pressed nearly 550 pounds and for whom the term “pancake” was created.
Rumors of steroid use swirled around him but he tested clean every time – once using a squeaky dog toy taped to his back and filled with a teammate’s urine to do so.
At the NFL combine, scouts were tripping over themselves when Mandarich ran a 4.65 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. For comparison, Auburn’s Cam Newton ran a 4.59 at this year’s combine.
With the SI cover feeding his ego, Mandarich followed in the steps of Brian Bosworth, a.k.a. “The Boz,” creating a larger-than-life, pro-wrestling-villain image of himself with his crazy hair cut, bandanas, Guns N’ Roses tattoo and loud mouth that was always ready to make headlines.
And he didn’t like the idea of heading to Green Bay at all. He instead hoped to play in a major media market so he could cash in on big endorsements. And he didn’t win any Packer fans over by referring to Green Bay as a “village” and quotes like this: “I am not like other players, I am Tony Mandarich, and they have to understand that. If they don’t like it, that is just the way I am and they are going to learn to like it.”
Mandarich says he didn’t use steroids in the NFL because he was worried about testing positive; the results were noticeable in his slimmed-down physique. An even bigger problem for Mandarich in the NFL was the fact he was hooked on alcohol and painkillers to the point he would keep a morphine-like drug called Stadol and a syringe in his jock strap during practice so he could inject himself on bathroom breaks.
Wrote Mandarich in his 2009 autobiography: “I went through NFL practice day after day with drugs and syringe in my crotch.”
While the four players picked around him in the ’89 draft – Troy Aikman (first overall), Barry Sanders (third), Derrick Thomas (fourth) and Deion Sanders (fifth) all went on to Hall of Fame careers, Mandarich endured three disastrous seasons in Green Bay and then was placed on the non-football injury list in 1992.
Things got so bad that Sports Illustrated ran another issue with him on the cover and a far-less flattering headline: “The NFL’s Incredible Bust.”
Mandarich was cut in Green Bay and holed himself up in Traverse City, MI, wasting away for two years with drugs and alcohol until he finally checked himself into a Michigan rehab clinic on a day etched into his memory forever: March 23, 1995.
Mandarich says in his autobiography that he hasn’t had a drug or drink since with the help of a 12-step program. Finally sober, Mandarich launched a comeback attempt with the Indianapolis Colts. Mandarich played for the Colts for three seasons and even started all 16 games in 1997, but a shoulder injury forced him into retirement for good in ‘99.
His comeback with the Colts is still widely overlooked, as his name still comes up every April when media outlets compile lists of the biggest busts in NFL draft history. The NFL Network itself named him the second biggest draft bust ever behind only Ryan Leaf.
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With his football career finished, Mandarich headed back to his native Canada and owned a golf course for a couple years. He re-married in 2004 to Char, who he met at Michigan State after an assistant coach named Nick Saban set Mandarich up with his family’s babysitter.
The two flocked to Arizona in 2005 for the warm weather and low humidity that is easy on his joints. That year they also started Mandarich Models.
Out of the spotlight for a decade, Mandarich became a topic of conversation again in 2009 when he released his autobiography, “My Dirty Little Secrets – Steroids, Alcohol & God: The Tony Mandarich Story” – in which he detailed his substance abuse and journey back to the NFL.
Mandarich was careful not to implicate anyone else in the book and is adamant he didn’t pen it to win over his critics.
“I didn’t write the book for forgiveness,” Mandarich said. “I wrote the book for explanation and for, hopefully, helping somebody see the light that there is hope for addiction or alcoholism and that you can change and save your life.”
He also credits getting sober with changing his personality. Speaking today with his soft Canadian accent, you would never know this was once a person who punched an opponent in the chest during pre-game hand shakes and told him he was going to die.
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Although Mandarich remains a Packer fan and cheered them on to a Super Bowl title last February, it remains to be seen whether Green Bay fans will forever hold a grudge for Mandarich’s disastrous stint there. Mandarich himself wonders what would happen if he were to ever walk onto Lambeau Field again.
“I have absolutely no idea how they would react,” Mandarich admits.
Either way, Mandarich has made peace with his past and now looks forward to a future growing his photography and media company. Who knows, maybe one day he could even grace the cover of Sports Illustrated a third time as a photographer for the swimsuit issue.
Mandarich said it would be a privilege and an honor to do it, but he isn’t holding his breath for the opportunity.
“You have to be a pretty d*** good photographer to do that,” Mandarich said. “That being said, I also think there’s a lot of politics involved and I’m just not up to putting up with the politics or kissing somebody’s a**.”
Now that’s the Tony Mandarich we know.
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